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Russian Warplanes Have Now Started Leaving Syria

Planes have begun the 3,000-mile journey home from Syria's Hmeymim airbase, following a five-and-a-half month military campaign that has tipped the balance of power in favor of President Assad.
A Russian SU-24M bomber taking off from the Hmeymim airbase in Syria in October 2015. Photo via Russian Defense Ministry Press/EPA

The withdrawal has begun — Russian military jets were shown on state television taking off from the country's air base in Syria on Tuesday to head back to Russia.

In particular, state TV broadcast footage of a Sukhoi-34 fighter bomber leaving the Hmeymim air base in Syria, following Monday's surprise announcement by President Vladimir Putin that he had ordered a partial withdrawal.

In a move timed to coincide with the restarting of Syrian peace talks in Geneva, Putin said the objectives of the Russian campaign, which began last September, had mostly been achieved.


Earlier on Tuesday, images broadcast on the Rossiya 24 TV station also showed personnel loading equipment and boxes onto Ilyushin Il-76 heavy lift transport aircraft at Hmeymim, in Latakia province.

The Kremlin has used the base, which Putin said Russia would keep along with a naval facility at Tartous, to mount a five-month campaign of air strikes to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an intervention that has tipped the balance of power in the Syrian leader's favour.

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At least 50 aircraft and helicopters have been kept at Hmeymim. The number of soldiers there has never been officially revealed, but the US believes there are between 3,000 and 6,000.

"The personnel are loading equipment, logistics items, and stock onto transport aircraft," the Russian defense ministry said. "Aircraft from the Hmeymim base will fly back to the airfields where they are permanently based on Russian territory accompanied by military transport aircraft."

The ministry said the planes would break their journey home of more than 3,000 miles to refuel at intermediary bases inside Russia.

A weather forecaster on Rossiya 24 said their precise flight paths home were secret, and that it was only possible to talk of the "most convenient routes" transiting Iraq, Iran, and Azerbaijan.

Russian will maintain defense equipment, including its S-400 missile defense systems, in Syria.

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